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About Iceland

Country for all Seasons | Exploring extremes in the great outdoors | Reykjavik | Iceland 101 | Eat, Drink and be Merry | Shopping in Iceland | Before You Go | Icelandic Culture | History | Independence | Timeline | FAQ about Iceland

Why Iceland?

Because it’s close, it’s easy, it’s exotic!

Iceland is closer than you think. This mid-Atlantic island is the USA’s closest European neighbor. With a flight time from New York less than five hours, you’re ready for action as soon as you arrive. There’s also plenty of choice for relaxing indulgence and pampering yourself. The chilliest thing about Iceland is its name! In January, the average temperature in the capital Reykjavik is higher than that in New York. And Iceland’s welcome for tourists is always warm. Almost everyone speaks fluent English and Icelanders aren’t really given to formalities. The telephone directory even lists people by their first name!

Reykjavik is a city where you’ll feel safe to walk the streets. With its colorful houses, friendly people and walkable city center, it’s like being in a big village. But this “village” has a multitude of cultural venues, gourmet restaurants, and stores. It also has the modern conveniences, services and quality of living you would expect from a world-class city.

Even so, it’s still only a 15-minute cab ride between downtown and wild nature, where you’ll feel you’re the only person on earth. When you’re in nature, you can explore geysers, waterfalls, geothermal hot springs, bird sanctuaries and more!

Iceland is the ideal place for taking a break and setting foot on a European outpost with an exciting, lively, ancient and thriving culture all of its own. You’ll feel at home – free to walk around, shop, admire, explore. It’s a place you could go on discovering forever.

Country for all Seasons

Winter, spring, summer or fall – Iceland has it all….

Winter heats up in Iceland!

Despite what its chilly-sounding name might suggest, Iceland does not freeze to a halt in winter. Average January temperatures in many parts of Iceland are actually higher than those in New York and much of Iceland’s cultural life bursts into bloom from autumn to spring, before the long bright nights and the main travel season begin. Outdoor life goes on as usual in Iceland throughout winter, with horseback riding and sightseeing all year round. And for thrills such as snowmobiling, you don’t even need to go up on a glacier in winter because rental and tour operators will find you plenty of places to zoom around at liberty. Some sports even take on an added flair in winter - like swimming in a geothermally-heated outdoor pool in a blizzard!


On the cultural front you’ll have the choice of symphony orchestra, opera, theaters (there’s no language barrier for the frequent musicals), and a rich variety of other musical events. Alongside local artists, a growing numbers of celebrated international performers from all fields are eager to include trendy Iceland in their tour programs these days. And for a little daytime cultural input, a fine national and international mix can be found at the many visual art museums and galleries.

The cultural season is in full swing in spring and fall, when numerous festivals are held, like spring’s Reykjavik Arts Festival or fall’s Airwaves Music festival. Birdwatchers will also find these times best for getting a glimpse of northern favorites like the puffing and the ptarmigan. And sports fans can attend an exciting indoor team handball game, one of the nation’s favorite sports.

Summer brings with it 24-hour daylight and the chance to partake in some midnight golf. It’s the height of the tourist season, so museums are open longer and hotel rooms can be harder to find.

Icelandair offers transatlantic travellers on their way to Europe the chance to stop over in Iceland for up to seven days at no additional cost - check out this opportunity if you want to add a new dimension to your trip between continents. Many people seize the chance to stop over and take a dip in the Blue Lagoon, shop in Reykjavik by day and sound out the cultural or social scene at night.

Want to know more? Visit www.icelandair.com

Exploring extremes in the great outdoors

In geological terms Iceland is very young - and the youthful exuberance of the land boldly greets travelers. The landscape is alive with the restless play of nature's forces. Action lovers in search of a real challenge will find plenty to their liking in Iceland. In some places where swirling glacial rivers race over rugged terrain on their way seaward, the scenery looks custom-built for river rafting. White water rafting operators often offer a choice of routes with different levels of challenge – for both newcomers who want to experience the basic thrill and the really wild at heart who seek more challenging rides. Kayaking is a sport not native to Iceland - although the country''s huge variety of natural waterways is ideally suited to it. And thrills await at many lakes and inshore bays where wave jets can be rented. Regular boating is another natural attraction in this country where life is inextricably linked with the sea. And sea fishing is especially popular because of the size of the catches to be had.

Glaciers cover one-ninth of Iceland''s land surface. Vatnajokull, at 3,300 square miles, is the largest glacier in Europe. The beauty of glaciers is eternal, but obstacles to enjoying it are largely a thing of the past. Glacier exploration is a unique experience, literally transporting travelers to a higher plane, where different values apply.

Tours are available where travelers make the ascent by bus and other vehicles, and then have time to explore on their own by snowmobile. Safaris in modified jeeps are also available. But because of the risk of hidden cracks in the glaciers, travelers should only visit glaciers on organized tours with experienced operators and guides. After all, there's all the freedom in the world - once you make it to the top. The main starting point for exploring several of the many glaciers that form the Vatnajokull cap is the town of Hofn in southeast Iceland. Other glacier favorites are the mystical Snaefellsjokull on Snaefellsnes peninsula, Myrdalsjokull on the south coast, and Langjokull where west Iceland borders the highlands, the closest major glacier to the capital. Go-it-alone types can also test themselves against nature. Cycling around Iceland is a genuine challenge, attracting a growing number of contenders. And really vigorous mountain hiking trails fan out in all directions from the outskirts of almost every community. In Reykjavik, the public bus system even runs to nearby Mount Esja, where it’s a brisk 3-hour trip to the summit and back. Just don’t forget to relax in a geothermal pool afterwards.

Reykjavik - Iceland’s Big Little City

Almost every visitor to Iceland spends some time in the country’s vibrant capital, Reykjavik. The world’s northernmost capital city is just as much a part of the Icelandic experience as the midnight sun or the magical moonlike landscapes of the interior. Legend says the Norse gods themselves guided Iceland’s first settler, Ingolfur Arnarson, to make his home in what is now the capital area. He named the settlement Reykjavik (“Smoky Bay”) after the misty geo-thermal steam he saw rising from the ground. Today, it heats homes and outdoor swimming pools throughout the city – a pollution-free energy source that leaves the air outstandingly fresh, clean and clear.

The best way to get to know Reykjavik is to take to the streets. The city center is remarkably compact and the efficient public bus system can quickly shuttle you around for sites a little farther away. Feed the swans and ducks on Tjörnin Pond next to the City Hall. Take the elevator to the top of the imposing Hallgrimskirkja Church for an incredible view of the city, or explore the colorful neighborhoods of Thingholt and Vesturbaer.

Nature lovers won’t feel enclosed in this city. The region is criss-crossed with many miles of walking and cycling paths which run along the stunning shoreline and through parks and nature reserves. There are golf clubs and horse riding clubs. Even a salmon river runs through the city limits!

Culture vultures will find themselves busy too. Reykjavik is packed with all the artistic venues you would expect from a capital city: art galleries, museums, several theaters, a symphony orchestra and even an opera house. There are seven movie theaters in and around the capital and live music concerts almost every day of the year, to suit from Abba cover groups to Led Zeppelin and every style in between.

The young and the young at heart will find lots to keep them busy on a visit to the capital. Whale watching is always popular, and animal lovers will want to visit the Family Fun Park and Zoo in the beautiful Laugar Valley. There’s also a great café nearby if this little ones make their parents a little tired!

The opportunity to eat some of the world’s freshest seafood and tastiest lamb is one that should not be missed in Reykjavik. These Icelandic specialties, as well as locally grown vegetables, game and ocean-fresh fish, are served in creative ways across the city. Reykjavik is also renowned as one of Europe’s hottest nightspots, where the action on the friendly pub and nightlife scene lasts right through the night.

Furthermore, Reykjavik is a great spot for those who seek some retail therapy. The capital region boasts two large indoor shopping malls as well as a pedestrian friendly shopping district in the city center, featuring Laugavegur, a mile-long shopping street. Woolens and handicrafts are popular souvenir items, but designer clothing, local music and original jewelry produced using Icelandic materials also make unique mementos. All are priced competitively, especially with the tax-free shopping available to visitors.

But the capital area is more than just Reykjavik. Adjoining it is the town of Kopavogur, with its new concert hall, art museum, and splendid sport and leisure facilities. A little farther down the road, the town of Hafnarfjordur nestles in a lava field and offers tourists both traditional and offbeat attractions – including Viking feasts and even elf-spotting tours! On the other side of the capital, Mosfellsbaer has excellent horseback riding and a regular summer farmer’s market.

REYKJAVIK SPA CITY

A visit to Reykjavik is not complete without a stop at one of the area’s many outdoor geo-thermal pools. Kids will enjoy going down water slides and playing with inflatable toys, while the grown-ups will probably prefer soaking in the “hot pots” or whirlpools. It’s both relaxing and enjoyable. Admission is cheap and bathing suits are available to rent if you forgot one.

For a real treat, visit the famous Laugar Spa, where you can also be treated to a series of spa treatments like massages and beauty treatments.

LINKS: www.visitreykjavik.is

Iceland 101
Land Iceland is an island of almost 40,000 square miles, the same size as Ohio. Iceland's highest peak, Hvannadalshnjukur, is 6,500 feet. Iceland has the largest glaciers in Europe - in fact, 11% of the country is covered by glaciers. The coastline is dotted with more than one hundred fjords and green, fertile valleys extend from many of them. Iceland also has more than 10,000 waterfalls and countless hot springs. A lot of the country is technically uninhabitable, with the moss-covered rocks of ancient lava flows and tall treeless mountains, but these moonscapes – the NASA astronauts actually trained in Iceland before the first moon landing – are perfect for exploring an other-wordly looking place.

Energy
Situated on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is a hot spot of geothermal activity. Thirty volcanoes have erupted in the past two centuries, and natural hot water supplies much of the population with cheap, pollution-free heating. Rivers are harnessed to provide inexpensive hydroelectric power. For visitors, this also means access to the country’s hundreds of clean and friendly geo-thermally heated outdoor swimming pools, a true Icelandic experience. The electrical current is 220 volts, 50 Hz, the same as in much of Europe.

Language The Icelanders still speak the language of the Vikings (Old Norse, now called Icelandic). It is in the same family of languages as Norwegian, Danish and Swedish. Iceland also keeps the ancient Norse tradition of using patronyms rather than surnames. So someone called Magnus Petursson is Magnus, the son of Petur. If Magnus has a daughter, she might be called Margret Magnusdottir, or Margret, the daughter of Magnus. Women do not change their names when they get married (after all, they can never become the son of someone else!) and so a husband, wife, son and daughter of the same family can all have different last names. That’s why people almost always use only first names in Iceland – people even refer to the President as just Olafur, and never Mr. Grimsson!

People
Iceland has a population of 300,000 and more than half live in the Greater Reykjavik area. The official language is Icelandic but most Icelanders speak fluent English. A small percentage of the population was born outside of Iceland. The largest minority groups in the country come from the other Scandinavian countries, Eastern Europe and South-East Asia.

Time In spite of its mid-Atlantic location, Iceland is on Greenwich Mean Time all year round.

History
The first permanent settler of Iceland was Ingolfur Arnarson, a Norwegian Viking who around 874 AD made his home where Reykjavik now stands. In 930 AD, the Viking settlers of Iceland founded one of the world's first parliaments. They established a constitution based on individual freedom, land ownership, and sophisticated inheritance laws. In the year 1000, Icelandic-born Leifur Eiriksson ( also known as Leif Eriksson or "Leif the Lucky") became the first European to set foot in North America. On another Viking expedition a couple of years later, Icelander Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir had a son, Snorri, who became the first child of European descent to be born in America. The Old Commonwealth Age, described in the classic Icelandic Sagas, lasted until 1262, when Iceland lost its independence to Norway, and later Denmark. In 1944, it peacefully gained full independence from Denmark and the present republic was founded. The country is governed by the Althing (Parliament) which has 63 elected members. Elections are also held every four years for the presidency; current President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson has held the position since 1996.

Economy Iceland’s economy is heavily dependent upon fisheries, which are the nation's greatest resource. Seventy-two percent of all exports are made up of seafood products. Yet only a small proportion of the workforce is active in this sector (4.4% in fishing and 5.6% in fish processing). About 66% of the workforce is employed in services. Icelanders enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world.

Health Life expectancy, at 80 years for women and 74 for men, is one of the highest in the world, and a comprehensive state health-care system aims to keep it that way.

Church
The National Church of Iceland, to which 97 percent of the population belongs officially, if not always in practice, is Evangelical Lutheran. In addition to the many Lutheran churches, there is a Roman Catholic Cathedral in Reykjavik, with holds regular Sunday Mass, often in English.

Eat, Drink and be Merry
Until recently, Icelandic food used to mean fish and lamb, potatoes and canned or frozen vegetables. Thankfully the country has moved on since then and is now a center for excellent cuisine. If you’re looking to try a few typically Icelandic goodies, try hangikjot (smoked lamb to eat in sandwiches), skyr – a delicious high-protein yogurt like substance, puffin or hardfiskur (protein-filled dried fish strips). People with a sweet tooth should taste Icelandic chocolate, licorice (or the popular chocolate-licorice combo!), Opal candies and snudur (frosting covered pastries). If you’re here during the holiday season, pick up some jolaol (orange soda mixed with malt – just try it!) and some laufabraud, the fried flat bread of the season (homemade is best). And when you’re in town, don’t forget to try a traditional hot dog with all the fixins’ and some delicious soft ice cream.

Coffee culture has caught on strong in Iceland and the capital, as well as most other towns, is dotted with places to sit and enjoy an espresso or any other caffeine concoction, as well as some delicious cakes and pastries. Most have free wireless internet, and many offer refills and a healthy supply of newspapers and magazines.

Dining in Reykjavik is a culinary celebration of fresh ingredients and cultural variety. There are over 170 restaurants in the greater Reykjavik area where top Icelandic chefs have the advantage of cooking with pure and natural Icelandic ingredients. Fruits and vegetables are grown organically in greenhouses and meat and dairy products are free of additives and growth hormones. Very often the mouth-watering halibut swimming in a delectable sauce on your dinner plate was carelessly swimming in the ocean during breakfast.

If you want your evening to go longer than dinner, fear not. The Icelandic nightlife needs to be seen to be believed. Locals dress to the nines – such classy wear is not a requirement for tourists – and head out in droves to the latest dance clubs, tiny live music venues, and pubs. This is a great opportunity to chat to Icelanders, who shed some inhibitions as the evening wears on and enjoy talking to visitors.

Shopping in Iceland more than you bargain for

Hip fashions, designer jewelry, cutting edge music and sturdy outdoor wear – Iceland’s got it all Reykjavik may very well be the best-kept secret of the cosmopolitan shopping enthusiast. Despite rumors that Reykjavik is an expensive city, its prices are generally on a par with those in New York. And when it comes to high fashion or designer wear, Reykjavik prices are almost always more reasonable. What gives? Well, in Reykjavik the markup is lower, thanks to reasonably priced retail space and lower overhead. Add to this the 15% tax-free refund for tourists - off a minimum purchase of 4,000 ISK (less than US $60) - and you may wind up with some excellent buys indeed. Incidentally, price tags in Iceland always include sales tax.

The selection of goods available is also impressive. From warm woolens to beautifully crafted pottery and glass to resilient outdoor wear, you’ll find it all here. The nation’s best buys include:

Outdoor wear:
If anyone knows how to make outdoor wear practical, durable and fashionable, it’s the Icelanders. Brands like 66 Degrees North and Cintimanni create great looking and hard wearing outdoor clothing that you can use on any of your hikes or just when you need to be warm. Stock up on everything from fleece to hiking socks (highly recommended!)


Wool wear:
The traditional Icelandic lopapeysa, a knitted wool sweater with special design at the top and on the sleeves, is now a must-have fashion item. Worn for practical reasons by farmers and fishermen, the sweater (or its variations, including button or zipped cardigan) is one of the trendiest items around. You can also buy high quality woolen scarves, gloves, hats and blankets, all made from Icelandic wool.
 

Fashion and accessories:
Iceland is home to many great fashion brands you are already familiar with, as well as some smaller, more specialized, ones. Stores likes Flex and Kron have great independent labels from all over the world, as well as jewelry.
There are also a number of shops where you''ll find eyewear, shoes, handbags and more, all in some very creative designs!

CDs and books
:
You have probably heard of Björk and the Sagas. But Iceland has a lot more to offer the worlds of literature and music. You can buy some of the best up-and-coming Icelandic music here at a fraction of the import price you would pay back home. Impress your friends with music from the hippest acts like Sigur Rós, Singapore Sling and Mugison. There are also terrific photographic books on all things Icelandic, as well as English translations from well-known authors, including the Nobel Prize winning Halldór Laxness.


Jewelry: Local designs have been celebrated as of late for their observation of Celtic and Old Norse patterns. Artists often incorporate gold or silver with materials found in Iceland, like lava rock, and the effect is very eye-catching. You can also commission your own design. This is very popular for wedding rings, which many people buy in Iceland.


Icelandic Couture: Reykjavík is full of boutiques and shops which feature the unique work of Icelandic designers using a variety of styles and materials. Great for finding a really unusual, yet incredibly stylish, piece of clothing. You can find something for all ages, shapes and sizes.

Artwork
: Artists in Iceland often take their inspiration from the country’s outstanding nature and surroundings, or from its literary history. From paintings to sculptures to pottery and glass work, you’ll find all sorts of creative designs here, both small and large.


WHERE TO GO
Icelanders have a great deal of affection for their atmospheric "old city center", which in addition to top-of-the-line stores, has a great number of excellent cafes, restaurants and bars. Starting at the top of Laugavegur (Reykjavik''s main shopping street, which is one mile long) and making your way westward, you will find a number of exclusive boutiques and fashion stores. But there''s more than just clothes to Laugavegur. There’s accessories, children''s clothes, fine porcelain, leather goods, cosmetics, lingerie, books, CDs and plenty more.

UNDER ONE ROOF Iceland has two large indoor shopping malls, Kringlan and Smaralind, both in the Reykjavik area. The selection is diverse and designer labels, both American and European, abound and there are services for watching the little ones while you head off in search of bargains. Kringlan is located within walking distance of several of the city''s main hotels. It is easily accessible by bus from the old city center and has ample free parking. Smaraland is in the town of Kopavogur, a short bus ride from the city center. It also has the city’s largest movie complex – perfect for catching the latest releases on those rainy nights. (All movies are shown in their original language with subtitles in Icelandic.)

MARKET
Bargain hunters should also check out Reykjavik''s only indoor market, Kolaportid. Essentially, it is a large garage sale, though some stands are permanent. Great buys can be had there on handmade Icelandic sweaters and other woolens, CDs (both new and used), toys, and sometimes shoes. Kolaportid''s food section is a tourist attraction in its own right, with its traditional Icelandic fare of pickled herring, cured shark, dried fish, and various other delicacies. Kolaportid is open weekends from 11-5.

WHEN TO GO The main shopping streets in Reykjavík are Laugavegur and Skolavordustigur. Most stores here are open from 10.00 – 18.00 on weekdays and from 11.00 – 16.00 on Saturdays. Clothing stores are usually closed on Sundays but the record and bookstores will be open. For longer shopping hours, visit either Kringlan or Smaralind Shopping Malls.

Kringlan
and Smáralind both have a number of major stores for clothing, accessories and books / souvenirs. These include Zara, Next, Debenham’s, Fat Face, and many others.

Before You Go
A valid passport is required for visitors to Iceland.

Nationals of the following countries do not require visas to travel to Iceland as visitorsalthough they do require passports that are valid for three months beyond their intended stay: United States of America, Andorra, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Ecuador, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong (applicable for those holding HKSAR passports), Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macao (applicable for those holding MSAR passports), Malaysia, Malta, Mexico, Monaco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Romania, San Marino, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Great Britain (incl. Bermuda, Turks and Caicos Islands, Cayman Islands, Anguilla, Montserrat, British Virgin Islands, St. Helena, Falkland Islands and Gibraltar), Uruguay, Vatican and Venezuela.

Nationals of all other countries require a visa to visit Iceland.

Iceland adopted the Schengen agreement on March 26, 2001. Travel between countries participating in the Schengen cooperation is allowed without formal passport control. Passports are still requested for those flying from Iceland to another Schengen country. The following countries participate in the Schengen agreement: Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden and Germany.

Foreign citizens who must produce a visa upon arrival in Iceland now also gain entry to the other Schengen countries. Schengen visas should be obtained prior to arrival in the Schengen territory. Danish embassies will handle visa applications on behalf of Iceland. A list of these embassies and further information is available on the Directorate of Immigration home page, www.utl.is.

Icelandic Culture

You might have already heard of Icelandic pop diva Bjork or the stories of the Icelandic sagas but these achievements only scrape the surface of the cultural life of the country.

When in Reykjavik choose from the symphony orchestra, opera, theaters (there's no language barrier for the frequent musicals), and a colorful variety of other musical events. You could have the opportunity to see up-and-coming Icelandic artists in intimate surroundings or watch local established artists perform live on stage. It’s like if Bruce Springsteen decided to play a little show to his closest 50 friends. A growing number of international artists, including Coldplay, Roger Waters and Duran Duran have added Iceland to their concert schedules. And for a little daytime cultural input, a fine national and international mix is also found at the many visual art museums and galleries.

VISUAL ART
Reykjavik and the surrounding area are home to a vast number of art galleries of every size, shape and description. Some are architectural delights, others are intimate and cozy; some of them even double as cafes or movie-theater lobbies. And none of them ever stands empty. Here is a small selection:

The Reykjavik Art Museum is housed in three buildings: Harbor House, Asmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum and Kjarvalsstadir. Each has its own focus and personality. When you buy admission to one building of the museum, admission to the other two is free on the same day. www.artmuseum.is

Harbor House: The panoramic view from the large windows in the cafeteria of Harbor House takes in the Reykjavik harbor and the majestic Mount Esja. The museum has six exhibition halls for art, a multi-purpose space and an outdoor area in an enclosed courtyard. It hosts exhibitions from the general collections of the Reykjavik Museum and diverse temporary exhibitions of works by Icelandic and international artists. Exhibitions from the popular Erro Collection also have a permanent place in the museum's schedule.

The Asmundur Sveinsson Sculpture Museum: The museum is dedicated to the sculptures and drawings of artist Asmundur Sveinsson (1893-1982). The collection is in the artist's former studio and home, which he designed and built himself. A sculpture garden surrounds the museum adorned by almost thirty of his sculptures – a perfect place for a little hide and seek.

Kjarvalsstadir: Kjarvalsstadir showcases works by leading Icelandic and international artists of the 20th century. The works of Johannes S. Kjarval, perhaps Iceland's best-loved landscape painter, are permanently on display.

The National Gallery, founded in 1884, houses the national collection of 19th and 20th century Icelandic and international art. The National Gallery is also a center for the study, documentation and promotion of Icelandic art. The National Gallery of Iceland regularly exhibits a variety of works from its own collection, as well as extensive special exhibitions of works by Icelandic and international artists every year. The bright on-site café is also a perfect place to enjoy a cup of coffee or tea after a long afternoon of sightseeing.

Asgrimur Jonsson (1876 - 1958) donated all of his paintings to the Icelandic nation and they now form a department of the National Gallery, housed in a separate premises at the artist's former studio on 74 Bergstadastraeti. The collection contains oil paintings, watercolors and drawings.

The Arni Magnusson Institute, located on the campus of the University of Iceland, is a short walk from the old center of Reykjavik. It is a research institute exhibiting medieval and later Icelandic manuscripts.

The Einar Jonsson Museum
, opposite the Hallgrimur Petursson Memorial Church, is an indoor and outdoor sculpture exhibition.

MUSEUMS
: Iceland is home to dozens of museums, many of which are to be found in small towns and villages throughout the countryside. There’s a museum of small objects near Akureyri, a museum of the herring industry in Siglufjordur, a museum to Icelandic emigrants in Hofsos, and even a phallological institute in Husavik!

The National Museum of Iceland:
Re-opened in 2004 after an extensive 7-year renovation, the National Museum houses a range of objects from the Settlement Age to the present, including Viking artifacts and whalebone carvings.

Reykjavik 871 +/-2: The Settlement Exhibit:
The newest addition to the Reykjavik museum scene showcases the remains of a Viking age longhouse from around 930 AD on the exact spot where it was discovered. These are the oldest archaeological findings in Reykjavik. The curious title of the exhibition comes from the dating of the settlement layer of volcanic ash. Various multimedia sources teach visitors about the life and times of settlers during that period.

The Arbaer Open Air Museum
is a museum of living history, meaning the staff dress in period clothing and attempts are made to re-create the past as accurately as possible. The name of the museum is drawn from the old turf farm Arbaer, located on the premises. The Arbaer Church, which is also a turf building, dates back to 1842. The museum is a collection of houses - including a
quaint little general store - which mirror the living style of early 20th century Reykjavik, from ordinary working people through to the higher echelons of society. In between the houses are generous stretches of lawn, well suited for playing games, lounging or even soaking up the sun in good weather. This is a great place for all the family. The kids will especially enjoy the lummur, traditional pancakes, that the staff sometimes bake in the old-fashioned way. Theater The Icelandic theater scene, which runs year-round, has more shows running than ever before. Reykjavik has two full-time companies performing at the National Theater and the Reykjavik City Theater.

The National Theater:
(+354) 551-1200, www.leikhus.is , e-mail: midasala@leikhusid.is.

The Reykjavik City Theater:
(+354) 568-5500, www.borgarleikhus.is, e-mail: borgarleikhus@borgarleikhus.is.

Classical Music Iceland's cultural season begins in the fall with the first concert by the Icelandic Symphony Orchestra. Concerts, performed at the University Concert Hall, have received rave reviews from critics at home and abroad. Foreign conductors and featured artists have performed alongside Icelandic musicians playing works by Icelandic and foreign composers. Contact: (+354) 562-2255, fax: 562-4475, www.sinfonia.is, e-mail: sinfonia@sinfonia.is.

Opera The Icelandic Opera opens its cultural season in the fall with performances at the northernmost opera house in the world. Although the elegant old cinema house in the heart of Reykjavik seats only 473, individual productions have drawn overall audiences of 8,000. Contact: Tel. (+354) 511-4200. www.opera.is e-mail: midasala@opera.is

History

A Viking Oasis Modern day Icelanders often speak fondly of their colorful Viking past. Much of the country’s early history is recorded in the Landnamabok (Book of Settlements), one of the early sagas. While there is some debate as to the motives of the first widespread Nordic settlement, convention holds that the Norsemen were fleeing the tyranny of the Norwegian King Harald Haarfagri (“Fair-haired”), who drove some Vikings from their ancestral lands in southern Norway. The emigrants stopped in the British Isles on their journey westwards, picking up slaves and wives for their new home. Arriving in Iceland, they threw high seats over the edges of their longboats and built their new homesteads where the seats washed ashore, believing that the divine hand of Thor, the Norse god of thunder, would choose the spot. Sometimes it would take years before the seats were found. The exiled Norse quickly developed their own sense of national identity, creating in 930 what is regarded as the world’s first parliamentary system, the

Althing
. Local chieftains gathered at

Thingvellir
, a natural amphitheater, where they elected leaders yearly. To prevent leaders from abusing power, the Althing had no military to enforce its will, a stipulation that would later cause problems when regional chiefs decided to take matters into their own hands. But for the most part, these early years following the development of the Althing were peaceful. It was an era of optimism, even for

Erik the Red
, who arrived after he was banished from Norway for murder. When he committed the same crime in Iceland and was exiled from there, too, he managed to convince 25 ships to follow him in a colonial expedition to Greenland. His son, Iceland born

Leif Eiriksson, later sailed further west, becoming the first European to reach North America, which he called Vinland.

Europe''s Dark Shadow

The early independence of Iceland was overshadowed by King Olaf Tryggvason, who brought Christianity by threats of the sword in the year 1000. Afterwards, however, Iceland was mostly ignored by the Norwegian Kings, and a Golden Age lasted from 1030-1163. Many sagas were written down at this time, beginning a literary tradition that would culminate with the sagas of

Snorri Sturluson
in the early 13th century. Much of Sturluson’s writing documents the end of the Golden Age, which declined into the “Sturlung Age” or the “Age of Stone Throwing”(1230-64), when the unenforceable authority of the Althing collapsed into warfare between rival clans. The infighting left Iceland vulnerable to Norwegian King Haakon, who managed to assert control over the island in 1262. Haakon instituted a debilitating tax in the form of wool, and the island began a long decline into abysmal poverty. The trying times that followed over the next 600 years are legendary: Mount Hekla erupted in 1389, devastating much of the surrounding land. Trade worsened. Norway passed a law forbidding Iceland to trade with other nations, and because Iceland had no merchant fleet of its own, it sometimes had to wait years for Norwegian ships to arrive.

The law was upheld by rulers in Denmark when the Scandinavian countries formed the Union of Kalmar in 1397. To survive, Icelanders began a covert cod trade with Britain, only to have the British decide it would be easier to fish Icelandic waters themselves - an act that led to war between England and Denmark in 1469. In 1627, three thousand pirates wreaked havoc on the island, kidnapping 242 people. In 1662, Denmark forbade trade not only between Iceland and other nations, but also between the regions of Iceland. In 1783, Mount Laki erupted, killing tens of thousand of cattle and horses and hundreds of thousands of sheep. In the smallpox that ensued, one third of the population perished. To top it off, in 1800 Denmark decided to abolish Iceland’s most cherished institution, the Althing.

Independence

After so many centuries of hard times, the independence movement that began in the early19th century probably seemed long overdue. The movement reached full force under the outspoken leadership of a nationalist named

Jon Sigurdsson
.

His efforts helped end the trade monopoly in 1854, and domestic autonomy was established in 1874, followed by home rule in 1904 and limited sovereignty in 1918. Ties to the Danish crown were not fully broken until 1944, after large numbers of British and American troops stationed on the island bolstered the economy. The development of an American airbase on the island, which finally closed in 2006, and a booming cod industry have transformed Iceland into one of the most prosperous nations on Earth

Iceland in the twenty-first century


Iceland today continues to grow. It has the second longest life expectancy and one of the highest standards of living in the world. There are an increasing number of immigrants moving to the country, often to smaller former fishing villages to work in the fishing industry. In the other direction, Icelandic companies have been increasingly active in foreign business markets, especially Baugur and FL Group. Entrepreneur Bjorgolfur Thor Bjorgolfsson recently became Iceland’s first dollar billionaire. In 2006, the American government announced its intention to close the military base at Keflavik. Still, they have pledged to continue to honor the defense agreement between the two countries and Iceland remains a member of NATO.

Government


Iceland’s Prime Minister is Geir H. Haarde, who is a member of the Independence Party of Iceland. He heads a government which is formed of his own party and the Progressive Party. The remaining parties in the Althing are the Social Democrats, the Liberal party and the Left-Green Alliance. The next elections are expected in the spring of 2007. Olafur Ragnar Grimsson is President and Head of State of Iceland, an elected but primarily ceremonial role. The President has the right to veto laws, but has only done so once since independence.

Timeline


c. 874-930: Iceland is first settled by Norwegians and some Celts from the British Isles.

930: The Althing (Parliament), now the world’s oldest national assembly, is established at Thingvellir. Iceland''s republican system of government was unique in its day.

930-1030: Age of the Sagas. The famous Sagas of heroes and villains took place during the period, although they were written much later. 982: Erik ("The Red") Thorvaldsson discovers Greenland. 1000: Christianity is adopted peacefully by a decision of the Althing at Thingvellir. The Icelander Leif ("The Lucky") Eiriksson becomes the first European to set foot in America.

1003: Snorri Thorfinnsson, the first European-American, is born in Newfoundland, present-day Canada. He is the son of Icelandic immigrants Thorfinnur Karlsefni Thordarson (Leif Eiriksson’s brother-in law) and his wife Gudridur Thorbjornsdottir

1030-1120: "Age of Peace"

1120-1230: "Age of Writing": 1230-1264: "Sturlung Age" 1241: Snorri Sturluson is killed.

13th Century: "Golden Age" when the Icelandic Sagas are written. The Sagas include some of the classics of world medieval literature and are written in the ancient Viking language which is still spoken in Iceland today.

1262: Iceland becomes part of the Norwegian crown. 1380: Iceland, with Norway, becomes part of the Danish crown. 1402-1404: The Black Death plague reaches Iceland.

1537: Norway is dissolved as a state (until 1814) and becomes part of Denmark. Iceland comes directly under the King of Denmark.

1540-1550: The Reformation. 1602: Royal trade monopoly. 1783-1785: Catastrophic eruption of the Laki volcano in the south-east region of Iceland. One third of the population subsequently die of starvation and disease.

1787: Trade monopoly is extended to all Danish subjects.

1800: The Althing is dissolved. 1818: The National Library is founded. 1843: The Althing is re-established as a consultative body.

1854: Monopoly on foreign trade is entirely removed.

1863: The National Museum is founded. 1874: Millennium anniversary of the settlement of Iceland is celebrated at Thingvellir. A Constitution is granted by the King of Denmark. 1879: Jon Sigurdsson, the leader of the independence movement, dies.

1904: Home rule is granted. Appointment of the first Icelandic government minister, Hannes Hafstein.

1911: The University of Iceland is founded. 1918: Act of Crown Union with Denmark. Iceland becomes an independent, sovereign state, with the Danish King as head of state. 1920: The Supreme Court is founded.

1930: Millennium anniversary of the establishment of the Althing Parliament is celebrated at Thingvellir.

1940: Iceland is occupied by British forces. 1941: US forces take over the defense of Iceland with the agreement of the Icelandic government. 1944: June 17. The Republic of Iceland is established at Thingvellir, following a referendum in which 97 percent of the population voted in favor of cutting ties with the Danish Crown.

1945: The first international flight by an Icelandic aircraft.

1946: Iceland joins the United Nations. 1947: Iceland becomes a founding member of the OEEC (forerunner of OECD). 1949: Iceland joins NATO.

1950: Iceland joins the Council of Europe. National Theater and Symphony Orchestra founded.

1951: A defense agreement is concluded between Iceland and the US. 1952: Iceland joins the Nordic Council. Fishery limits are extended to four miles. 1958: Fishery limits are extended to 12 miles.

1971: Arrival of the first Icelandic manuscripts from Copenhagen.

1972: Fishery limits are extended to 50 miles. British warships, defending British trawlers, clash repeatedly with Icelandic coast guard vessels protecting the 50 mile limit. 1973: A volcanic eruption in Heimaey, the only inhabited island in the Westmann Islands. 1974: The 1100th anniversary of the settlement of Iceland is celebrated at Thingvellir.

1975: Fishery limits are extended to 200 miles. Further clashes between the Icelanders and British as with the 50-mile dispute.

1986: Reykjavik celebrates its bicentenary. The famous Reagan-Gorbachev Summit held in Reykjavik. 1994: 50th anniversary of the modern Icelandic Republic. The agreement on a European Economic Area (EEA) takes effect, giving Iceland full access to the internal market of the European Union (EU). 1995: Avalanches hit the towns of Sudavik and Flateyri in the Westfjords, killing more than 30 inhabitants.

1996: Volcanic eruption underneath the Vatnajokull glacier unleashes a huge deluge, destroying the Ring Road in the southern part of the country.

2006: The United States closes the military base at Keflavik.

FAQ about Iceland

WHERE IS IT? Iceland is a European island midway between North America and mainland Europe. Reykjavik is the world’s northernmost capital city. It is the same distance from New York to Iceland as from New York to Los Angeles.

HOW DO I GET THERE? There are several daily non-stop flights to Iceland from the US. Flight times are as short as 4-1/2 hours. Flights land at Iceland’s Keflavik International Airport (30 miles from Reykjavik) with connections to many popular destinations in Europe, including London, Paris, Frankfurt and Copenhagen. Many people discover Iceland by taking advantage of stop-over opportunities while on their way to or from somewhere else.

HOW COLD DOES IT GET?
Actually, thanks to the Gulf Stream, Iceland maintains surprisingly moderate temperatures year-round. It seldom reaches 75°F in the summer. And during winter most areas never reach the low temperatures experienced by Washington and Ottawa. It is not unusual to see snow as early as October and as late as April – but it rarely stays on the ground more than a few days.

HOW BIG IS ICELAND?
Iceland is about the size of Ohio. The vast majority of its 300,000 people live in coastal areas, especially around the capital. The center of Iceland is ruggedly mountainous and uninhabited.

HOW SHOULD I DRESS?
Dress much the way you would in New York City in the fall, winter and spring. In summer, carry a light, and preferably water-resistant, jacket. The weather can be extremely changeable, and sometimes it is too windy to use umbrellas in the rain. The Icelanders often say, “If you don’t like the weather, just wait 15 minutes and you’ll get something different.” They’re not kidding!

And always bring a bathing suit. Yes, a bathing suit! Icelanders’ favorite pastime year-round is outdoor swimming in the countless geothermally-heated pools and lagoons, which are as warm as bathwater.

DO ICELANDERS SPEAK ENGLISH?
Most Icelanders (especially the younger generations) speak fluent English and many speak several other languages, including Danish, German or Spanish. Most also welcome the opportunity to practice their second language — so don’t be shy about approaching someone to ask directions.

WHAT ARE THE PEOPLE LIKE? The Icelanders are descended from both the Vikings and the Celts, so while there are many blond, blue-eyed locals, there are also many with brown eyes and red or dark brown hair. Icelanders have a reputation as being a beautiful people. An Icelander has been crowned Miss World three times, but you’ll have to come and see for yourself if the reputation is accurate! Perhaps because of centuries of difficult living in the rough north Atlantic, the Icelanders are often a reserved and stoic group, sometimes even appearing shy at first. But they are proud of their country and very welcoming to visitors from all over the world. Many will want to know what you think of their homeland. Expect to be asked “How do you like Iceland?” many times on your trip.

WHAT’S THE ACCOMMODATION AND FOOD LIKE?
World-class! Iceland’s hotels and guesthouses suit all budgets are almost invariably clean and comfortable and many have wireless internet access. You can stay in 4-star internationally known hotels, guesthouses, farms, cottages or even go camping.

The food is just as varied as you would find in any capital city. Meats are organic and locally produced; the lamb is especially popular. And of course Iceland serves some of the world’s freshest fish and seafood. American fast food can be found almost everywhere and there are numerous restaurants with international cuisine from Thai to Indian. Vegetarians will also have no problem finding delicious, and often organic, meals.

WHAT CAN I SEE BESIDES NATURE? You don’t have to be the outdoors type to fall in love with Iceland! Just take a look at the rest of this website to get a glimpse of the many things to see and do. For example, Reykjavik is one of the liveliest, sophisticated and modern cities on earth. Its nightlife and cultural offerings are quickly becoming legendary worldwide.

WHAT IS THE CURRENCY? Iceland’s currency is the krona (plural kronur ISK). In 2006, the exchange rate was roughly 70 ISK to the US dollar. Although you may find a few places that accept US dollars, especially in the Reykjavik area, you should carry and use Icelandic money. You can exchange money easily at the airport, bank and currency exchanges. Plastic also reigns in Iceland and it is possible to pay for virtually anything with a credit card – except the public buses. Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted; American Express and Diner’s Card less so. Bank machines are easy to find.

WILL MY CELL PHONE WORK IN ICELAND? Most North American cell phones won’t work because Iceland is on the European system, but you can rent phones in Iceland. To call home:

1. Dial the AT&T access number in Iceland; 00 800-22255288. 2. Then dial the phone number you’re calling including area code. 3. Wait for a prompt then enter your AT&T Calling Card number and 4-digit pin.

Iceland’s country code is +354. If you are calling Iceland from the United States or Canada, dial 011 to get an international line, then 354 and the 7-digit phone number. When you are in Iceland, you just need to dial the 7-digit phone number. There are no area codes in Iceland.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?
This is always a difficult question. Alcohol is heavily taxed and is almost certainly more expensive than you are used to, but other than that the costs are probably similar to big cities around the world, like New York or London. A cappuccino in a trendy café will probably cost 200 IKR. Visitors can save more with tax-free savings for purchases over 4000 IKR. And tipping is not customary in Iceland for any service, including restaurants and taxis, so the price listed is the total price you will pay.

WHAT ABOUT ALL THIS DAYLIGHT?
Iceland’s northern latitude means it experiences big differences between winter and summer daylight hours. It’s true that from May to August, you won’t see much darkness. Conversely, in mid-winter, expect only about four to five hours a day of daylight. Spring and fall daylight hours are roughly the same as in North America.

WHAT ABOUT THE ELECTRICITY? Icelandic electrical standards are European (50Hz, 220 volts) so many North American electrical devices will require converters and all will require plug adapters. Most laptop computer and phone and MP3 player charges have the converter built in, so you just need a plug adaptor to fit in the outlets. These are usually available at airports. For the converters, it’s best to buy one in North America and bring it with you. They’re usually found at US and Canadian electronic specialty stores and sell for around USD 25.

WHAT IS INTERNET ACCESS LIKE?

Iceland is a very tech-savvy country with one of the highest rates of Internet usage in the world. If you didn’t bring a computer, you’ll find internet cafés in the bigger towns and hotels. Many restaurants and cafés, especially in Reykjavik, have free wifi access, so if you have a laptop you can get Internet access almost everywhere. You’ll also notice that most hotels, guesthouses, museums, restaurants and cafés have their own websites.

WHAT ABOUT THOSE VIKINGS? The Vikings were the world’s greatest travelers and Iceland-born explorer Leifur Eiriksson discovered America more than 500 years before Columbus. The Vikings were also the greatest hosts, as this 1000-year-old quote from “The Sayings of the Vikings”, suggests:

A guest needs giving water fine towels and friendliness, A cheerful word a chance to speak kindness and concern.”

Come and explore the true adventure, experience our fantastic food and rediscover the spirit and true hospitality of the modern Vikings. It is all still here, and much more!

ICELAND FOR EVERYONE



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